Cocaine long term effects

A review of cocaine’s long term effects to the body, brain, and behavior.

minute read

The word most often used to describe cocaine’s initial “rush”, which courses through the body and brain of the user is euphoria. It’s this euphoria which compels people (for good reason!) to use coke again and again. The rush of dopamine is what makes cocaine a highly addictive substance, primarily based on the intense pleasure that floods the brain and senses of the user, from the very first hit.

So, what are the long term effects of using cocaine? How does it influence your body, brain and behavior and what are the symptoms of cocaine addiction? We examine here. Then, we invite your questions about the long terms effects of cocaine use at the end. In fact, we try to answer all questions personally and promptly.

Long term effects of cocaine use on behavior

One of the first long term effects of cocaine is needing to use more cocaine over time. When users continue to cocaine over time, it becomes necessary to increase doses to achieve the same initial effect. This is known as “tolerance to cocaine“. Chronic use of cocaine in high doses can produce the effects of tolerance within about one (1) week of frequent use.

Then, regular or heavy use of cocaine begins to show in the behavior of the user, in terms of behavior. Heavy use of cocaine is defined as the use of two (2) or more grams a weeks, at least four (4) times a month for one year. For these types of long term users, symptoms can manifest such as:

  • agitation
  • argumentative or aggressive behavior
  • insomnia
  • irritation
  • jittery body movement
  • rapid speech patterns or
  • weight loss due to lack of appetite

Some users begin to have delusions or hallucinations and may become psychotic, violent and paranoid. But what some other effects of cocaine on the body and its systems?

Long term effects of cocaine on the body

Cocaine affects the body over the long term in a variety of ways. It constricts blood vessels, dilates pupils, and increases body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. It can also cause headaches and gastrointestinal complications such as abdominal pain and nausea.

Because cocaine tends to decrease appetite, chronic users can become malnourished as well. Most seriously, people who use cocaine can suffer heart attacks or strokes, which may cause sudden death. Cocaine-related deaths are often a result of the heart stopping (cardiac arrest) followed by an arrest of breathing.

Long term effects of cocaine on the brain

Repeated exposure to cocaine changes the brain. The brain starts to adapt to its presence, and the reward pathways of neurotransmitters becomes less sensitive to natural reinforces and to the drug itself. As discussed earlier, tolerance may develop, which means that higher doses and/or more frequent use of cocaine is needed to register the same level of pleasure experienced during initial use.

At the same time, users can also become more sensitive (sensitization) to cocaine’s anxiety-producing, convulsant, and other toxic effects. What’s more is that mental deficits can develop as a result of reduced blood flow to the brain. Some people who quit using cocaine have trouble paying attention or remembering conversations; others can be disruptive in groups by being disinhibited with constant interruptions, beginning tasks without waiting for all the instructions, and may become aggressive.

Long term effects of cocaine on a fetus

Effects of cocaine on pregnancy are not yet conclusive. As there have been no long-term studies into the effect of prenatal cocaine in humans, evidence for cocaine-induced cardiac programming is lacking in humans.

Despite the lack of direct evidence of long-term human programming, studies in humans clearly show that prenatal cocaine exposure results in alterations to the heart and the autonomic nervous system. These findings (and long-term effects seen in animal models) strongly suggest that fetal cocaine exposure is capable of inducing cardiac programming and is likely a significant risk factor for morbidity and mortality secondary to myocardial ischemia in adulthood.

Long term effects of cocaine abuse

After a long time of using cocaine, there are serious symptoms that are going to appear. These can include:

  • addiction
  • anxiety, panic attacks, and paranoia
  • difficulty sleeping
  • gastrointestinal problems
  • increased risk of viral and bacterial infection (including STDs)
  • mood disturbance
  • nasal damage and difficulty swallowing
  • restlessness

Long term effects of cocaine addiction

The effects of addiction to cocaine are numerous and many changes can happen to you, both physically and mentally. Once someone become addicted to cocaine, quitting without relapse become extremely difficult, even after long periods of abstinence. This difficulty is caused by functional and structural changes to the brain, affecting neurotransmission and sensitivity to the chemical dopamine. Basically, you begin to feel very depressed and experience intense cravings for coke.

Depression can become a part of your everyday life, and when you stop using coke, these symptoms can last for months following cessation of long-term heavy use (particularly daily). Symptoms may also be associated with suicidal thoughts in some people.

After a long time of using, you’ll also experience powerful, intense cravings for cocaine. However, the “high” associated with ongoing use becomes less and less pleasant, and can produce fear and extreme suspicion rather than joy (euphoria). Just the same, the cravings may remain powerful.

Can cocaine long term effects damage you permanently?

We’re not quite sure.

Episodes of hyper-manic sexual behaviors and other manic pursuits of pleasurable activity can start after you quit using cocaine, such as overeating or addictive types of pleasure seeking. These activities seem to try to compensate for the dulling of certain systems in the brain.

Physical effects on the brain are numerous. Permanent damage to the brain may include imbalance in neurotransmitter function in the prefrontal cortex and the midbrain. These parts of the brain are responsible for pleasurable experiences.

Pleasure sensations may become difficult for the long-term or chronic user to experience. They may not experience pleasure in things they once enjoyed. Why? Brain images show a decreased number of dopamine receptors in the brain of a person addicted to cocaine versus a non drug user. The dopamine system is important for conditioning and motivation. Still, neuroscientists are amazed as the resilience of the brain…and long term users can repair or restore brain function in the months and years after use.

What about long term effects on the body?

Regularly snorting cocaine can lead to loss of sense of smell and an overall irritation of the nasal septum, even damage by causing permanent holes in the soft tissue. Imagine a chronically inflamed, runny nose with a hole between the nostrils.

Ingested cocaine can cause severe bowel gangrene, due to reduced blood flow. And those who inject cocaine have puncture marks called “tracks,” most commonly in their forearms, and may experience allergic reactions, which in severe cases can result in death. Plus, significant weight loss and malnourishment are the result of regular cocaine use, the result of which can cause permanent damage to internal organs.

Are you using cocaine long term?

Have you been stuck in a rut of using and quitting coke, and then using again? We invite your questions or comments in the section below. We want to hear from you and help if we can! If we can’t answer your questions, we’ll refer you to someone who can.

Reference Sources: NIDA Notes: Cocaine abuse may lead to strokes and mental deficits
NIH: What are the long-term effects of cocaine use?; Cocaine; Health Effects
NIDA: Drug Facts on Cocaine
NIDA: Health effects of commonly abused drug
MedlinePlus: Cocaine withdrawal
NCBI: Short and long-term adverse effects of cocaine abuse during pregnancy on the heart development
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
I am ready to call
i Who Answers?